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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3616

Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) as usual has been trying to denigrate not only myself but also honourable members on this side of the House and the Country Party in particular. I noticed during his speech that he was only emphasising the fact that the Government is trying to give Territorians, both in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, a right to vote at a referendum. He sidestepped the major and cynical approach of the Government towards this question as contained in sub-section 2. (c) of the Bill whereby it is proposed that the majority shall not be decided as at the moment on a four to two basis at referendums. It is the Government's object to carry a proposal to alter the Constitution with agreement on a 50-50 basis between the States or three all. The Australian Labor Party is engineering the blocking of this Bill by so doing. Of course, the Minister for Services and Property will once more ask how the Country Party members are voting and will say that they are not even supporting their own interests. But the Labor Party is tacking on to this Bill something that should not be there.

If it is genuine in its offer to give Territorians the right to vote at referendums it is being most insincere about tacking paragraph (c) onto clause 2 of this Bill, hence our proposed amendment. The title of the Bill is a misnomer. I imagine that people who at a referendum saw the words 'Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution)' would not have the faintest idea that the Labor Party was trying to swing this rather snide deal on them about altering the numbers relevant to a majority at a referendum. I agree that section 128 should be amended by deleting the words in each State', as provided in clause 2 (a), so that Territorians would have a right to vote at a referendum. But clause 2 (c) should be deleted, and if the Prime Minister is sincere in this matter he will see that it is deleted.

I agree that we in the Territories should have this vote. That was part of my original platform in 1966. Despite the Minister's disparaging and inaccurate remarks, as usual, about the noise I was making or about my not having done anything about this - that was a complete falsehood - on referendum day in 1967 I was in the lead of a protest procession marching down the street carrying banners bearing such words as '60,000 voteless voices'. On that day a public booth was opened at the showground at Alice Springs seeking signatures for a petition that I subsequently presented to this House on 22 August 1967. Recently the Minister said that I had done nothing about it. That is a typical example of the inaccuracies - I shall use that term because this is early in my speech - that flow so readily from his tongue. There was also a protest notice nailed to what would have been the polling booth door. I have that to say for the Minister.

Mr Daly - How is the honourable member going to vote?

Mr CALDER - You just be quiet. I shall mention the motion of the Northern Territorians. The Territorians sent a message to the Prime Minister. They asked whether he was aware that the citizens of the Australian Territories are not entitled to vote at referendums and therefore in a series of referendums that have been foreshadowed in future months over a quarter of a million people living on the Australian mainland will be denied an opportunity to be represented in national votes on vital issues. They considered overall that the matter should come before the Constitutional Convention. I shall quote from the Hansard report of the debates of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory an extract which will inform the Minister for Services and Property on this matter. It states:

Amongst the things which were brought out at the Constitutional Convention and referred to the executive and the standing committees to be looked at, there are some things which will be plucked out and dealt with by the Australian Government before the ordinary machinery of the Constitution deals with them. This was indicated at various stages during our discussions there. One of them is the matter of the powers in relation to prices and incomes. Another one following on that could well be the question of legislation relating to electoral matters in Australia.

That was Dr Letts, the member for Victoria River, speaking. He continued:

So that we may get the full value out of the work of the Constitutional Convention, his matter of getting our vote recorded somehow in referenda is of prime importance and should be looked at as a matter of urgency.

He also said:

Obviously there are 2 different degrees of difficulty in having us included in a referendum. There would be very little difficulty in having the votes of Territorians registered and included in the overall vote of the Australian people-

This is the one that should have been taken notice of by the Government - and therefore influencing whether there was an overall majority of votes in favour or against a particular issue.

He went on to say that it was more complicated when it came to section 128. As I have mentioned, that was Dr Letts, the Country Party leader in the Legislative Council who was speaking.

What does Mr Withnall have to say? He is an independent member. He said that Dr Letts was not really politically realistic if he thought that there would be 2 amendments of section 128 in succession. He said:

The people of Australia simply won't accept that they have to vote on 2 amendments to section 128.

Mr Withnallis a legal man and I imagine he knows what he is saying. He also said:

I find it somewhat odd, in view of the fact that this provision in the constitution is to come under very careful scrutiny by the standing committee of the Constitutional Convention, that the honourable member proposes that we should ask the Commonwealth Parliament to put before the people a referendum in advance of the decision of the constitutional committee.

That was the point being made all through this debate. It was considered that the matter should be considered by the Constitutional Convention. Mr Withnall continued:

I would like to see that the people of the Northern

Territory have a vote but it ought to be on terms more carefully considered than this. It ought to be on terms that seek the exact way in which section 128 is to be amended. It ought to be in terms that do not permit the Commonweath government to take the best way.

As I said, an independent member spoke on those lines. He also said:

I think it anticipates a decision of the Constitutional Convention.

These are men who are actually in the Northern Territory and have first hand knowledge and experience. They have more to gain or lose than those who speak mainly, from a political standpoint, on behalf of the Government.

What did Mr Ward, another legal man in the Territory, say? He has been there since 1939 and has practised on and off during that time. He is also the Leader of the Labour Party in the Legislative Council. Mr Ward moved an amendment to the original motion that is quite interesting. He moved that the motion be amended by omitting all words after that' and substituting:

(a)   the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Northern Territory, the State Premiers and the Executive Committee of the Australian Constitutional Convention, be informed of the disquietude of Northern Territory citizens at their inability to take part in referenda to change the Australian Constitution; and

(b)   the Executive Committee of the Australian Constitutional Convention be requested to give priority consideration to a means of providing citizens in Australian Territories with voting rights in referenda equal to those of their compatriots in the Australian States.

In speaking to the amendment Mr Ward said:

I agree with the remarks of the honourable member for Port Darwin.

He was referring to Mr Withnall, who said he considered that the matter should go before the Constitutional Convention. Mr Ward continued:

This amendment does achieve the right approach which should be adopted on a matter of this kind. I agree, nevertheless, with the honourable mover of the motion-

That is, Dr Letts from Victoria River - that this matter should be brought to the attention of the right authorities. It is a question of who are the right authorities-

Fair enough- and we have covered all those who could possibly be involved. We certainly could not bypass in any way the Australian Constitutional Convention.

The speaker was the Leader of the Labor Party in the Legislative Council. He advocated something entirely different to what the Government proposes in this measure.

On the following day in the Legislative Council that amendment was agreed to by all elected members. On that day Dr Letts said:

Undoubtedly the collective wisdom which will be brought together in the executive of the Constitutional Convention should arrive at a better and more balanced decision and one which will carry more force in an Australian referendum on the subject than a decision of one parliament or one man, the Prime Minister or the Federal Parliament.

That is what the people of the Northern Territory have said about this matter. The remarks to which I have referred relate only to the question of the right of people in the Northern Territory to vote at a referendum. At that time the members of the Legislative Council did not know that the Government proposed to introduce by this rather underhand, slimy and dishonest approach the amendment set out in clause 2 (c) of the Bill.

I do not know whether the Government hopes to have opposition to its referendum proposals blocked on this ground or whether it hopes to sneak in this provision to reduce the majority of the States in favour of a proposal in order to carry a proposal. I agree that the Constitution should be amended as proposed in clause 2 (c), but I do not agree that it should be done under the terms of this Bill. As I say, I do not know whether this Bill has been introduced for the purpose of getting some more ammunition to fire at this side of the House or for other cynical reasons. This Bill is a misrepresentation. The Australian people are not being informed of the actual purport of the Bill. As I said earlier, who would know when they went to pick up their ballot paper in a referendum, that by voting for the proposal they would lose the chance to throw out a referendum, because this Government is trying to reduce from four to two, to three to three the majority of the States required to carry a referendum. The Government is not informing the Australian people; it is misrepresenting the case not in the name of the Bill but in the form in which it has introduced the question in clause 2 (c). The Minister for Services and Property can level abuse and carry on as he usually does, but I ask him to get his facts right because we might again have to call him a liar. Sooner or later it will sink into the Australian people that that is exactly what he is. I will support the amendment that is to be moved.

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